If you have children in the state of California and you’ve filed for divorce, it’s essential to understand that there are two types of child custody that the courts will litigate during your divorce proceedings. California law requires parents to create a custody and visitation plan before going to court, even if it requires professional mediation. But if parents can’t negotiate an acceptable agreement, a judge must litigate both types of child custody for your case. That’s why it’s helpful to understand the differences between legal and physical child custody before creating your custody plan.
Understanding Physical Child Custody
California law recognizes legal and physical custody differently. The courts strongly encourage parents to work out an amicable plan for joint custody, both physically and legally. Judges in California always presume that joint custody best serves the child’s interest.
Physical custody refers to which parent the child or children live with. The most common custody arrangement in California is for one parent to have sole physical custody with joint legal custody and liberal visitation by the non-custodial parent. Typically, parents negotiate arrangements for visitation times for the non-custodial parent. Some exceptions to this are cases involving neglect or abuse. In these instances, one parent may have sole physical custody while the other parent has visitation with limits such as supervised visitation, limited visitation, or no visitation at all.
In some cases, parents decide to share physical custody, with children spending every other week with each parent. They may also use an alternating schedule for switching every two days within the week. This is often the preferred custody schedule for parents with an infant so the baby doesn’t go long periods without seeing either parent.
Understanding Legal Child Custody
Legal child custody in California refers to a parent’s authority to make legal decisions for a child, such as medical and dental decisions, deciding where a child attends school or daycare, religious teachings, and where the child is allowed to travel. Parents may opt for joint legal custody so both parents can make important decisions impacting the child’s health and well-being. In cases where parents disagree about these major decisions, they may need mediation or a judge to resolve the dispute.
Deciding on Legal and Physical Child Custody in California
Judges do not automatically award physical or legal custody to the mother or father, regardless of a child’s age. According to law, judges must award custody in whatever manner best serves the child’s needs. A judge takes many factors into consideration, including the child’s age, health, and emotional ties to both parents as well as family history and community ties.
Over time, a parent or child’s situation and needs may change. In this case, the matter of physical and legal custody may require legal renegotiation between the parents or by a judge if the parents can’t reach an amicable agreement about the change.
A skilled attorney who’s knowledgeable in California family law can help you navigate through your custody case during your divorce. Child custody is one of the most important decisions you can ever make for your family.